She's a witch, okay maybe not...

Another reason why the mainstream media doesn't get religion, especially Christianity, and more especially people, like Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska, who actually practice their faith.

Expect it, because mainstream media often work in their own echo chamber doing what they do for people almost exactly like themselves and, despite their advocacy of tolerance and diversity, rarely able to grasp folks they don't meet at cocktail parties.

This, by the way, is another good reason why you should get your religious news from Get Religion where the coverage is critiqued in a fair way and rumors, like Governor Palin naming her kids after witches, go to die.

The politics of blood...

An article from First Things on political rhetoric and violence.

I do worry that the rhetoric coming from the political fringes has the potential to one day move into the mainstream and then provoke violence. Violent words always seem to be the precursor to violence itself. One must dehumanize the enemy to allow the conscience the freedom to kill and it appears this has already begun.

In times past we've had difficult political campaigns with harsh words but there was always an ethic in place that confined the struggle to words. That ethic, that Judaeo-Christian framework, is largely disappearing and without it politics has become all there is and for many the stakes have become a matter of life and death.

One day the trigger may be pulled. Lord have mercy.


This Sunday's sermon in advance...

This past week over 80 thousand people and nearly 40 million via television watched as Sen. Barack Obama accepted the nomination of his party for the Presidency.

Some, I suppose were curious, some wanted to see history in the making; some were looking for points to critique. But among the people there were many looking for a message, the kinds of words that would transform their lives. People from across the country have attended the Senator’s campaign events and often become overwhelmed with emotion. Oprah Winfrey, who called Obama the "One", spoke of how her time in Denver was the most powerful thing she had ever experienced and musician Kanye West said his attendance at the speech changed his life forever. They join the many stories of that type which have come from the campaign, people not interested necessarily in the specifics about how things will run or who will pay for them but seeking a message of hope and change. Those words and what they represent have carried a formerly little known Senator from Illinois to the pinnacle of power in our country and whatever one thinks about the actual politics it’s important to note how people have reacted to even the idea that someone could deliver them to better things.

This is the genius of Sen. Obama’s campaign. Deep inside of all us we know that our world, personally and collectively, is broken and while the Senator’s stands on some issues put him at distinct odds with the witness of historic Christianity he has skillfully tapped into that larger Christian narrative, the reality of our brokenness and the longing for salvation. His promise, like the promises of all politicians, is for a political revival, a secular salvation, the rearranging of the culture through the power of the state and by it the creation of a utopia where everyone has enough, justice is always done, and there is perpetual peace. He has successfully tapped into the innate human desire for Eden lost and shaped it to his message.

We know, of course, this is never going to happen. The day after an inauguration is the day when reality sets in and the promises, regardless of who makes them, fly away like smoke in the cold January wind. We hope for better but people are still the same and it’s not long before the new wears off and business returns to usual. The people who cheer and weep at rallies and events become cynical and bitter again as their heroes, and their message, are revealed as all too human. The Eden we hoped for, like the first, will slip, again, from our grasp.

The saddest part of this, though, is that we who actually do possess an authentic message of truth and change and hope in Jesus Christ have over the years largely been silent. We huddle in our church walls, or our witness has been so compromised by our own attachments to this broken world that what we have and who we are is never revealed. Politicians at best can change laws but Christ can change hearts yet the people who line up for hours to see a politician speak of hope and change will often never know of the One, Jesus Christ, who embodies hope and the transformation of each person and the world into its glorious potential.

One day our Lord will ask of American Christians “I gave you wealth and freedom unlike any other culture and what have you done with it?” And our only answer will be to put our hands in our pockets and stare at our feet. Because all around us are people who need something greater then themselves, something to rescue them from their own lives, something to believe in, and a core to hold them steady in the ups and downs of existence. We, by grace, have been given all this and more and commanded to share it but we have not. At the very moment when our friends and neighbors and family need us to point them to true light, living water, and eternal hope we are silent, our minds set somewhere far from forever.

These precious children of God, souls wandering from one dry well to another, looking to everything our culture can produce, good, bad or otherwise are in need of Jesus Christ and without him they’ll be lost, not just in some eternity to come but in every waking moment of their lives. They’ll follow one person or another for the sake of the possibility of hope. They’ll spend money on meaningless things. They’ll chase experiences. They’ll seek comfort in a stranger’s arms. They will drink until they disappear. They’ll pursue power, fame, ageless beauty, and celebrity. They’ll do anything for a moment of peace, for a fleeting glimpse of rest for their souls, for some light at the end of their tunnel, even if it never comes. And if they never encounter Jesus they will walk the earth empty and leave the same.

Yet what have we, as Orthodox Christians, done?

After the worship of God there is no greater act any Christian can do then to proclaim, in word and deed, the true message of hope, the true haven, as our liturgy says, for the storm tossed, the true light that has come into the world and cannot be extinguished by any night. This is not just the single greatest act of Christian charity but also our own loving response to the one who commanded us to go into all the world with the reality of Christ and transform it one person at a time, a task that will end only when God decides history as we know it is closed. Our lights, as Jesus says, are to shine and not be hidden. Our good works are to be real and tangible and draw praise to God. Our hope is to be shared with any who will receive it and the life that has been given to us must overflow us like living water gushing from a deep and pure well.

To do this we must accomplish two things.

The first is that we as Orthodox Christians must be converted ourselves to the message and person of Jesus. There is much discussion about “cradle” versus “convert” Orthodox but the truth is that we are all converts every day of our lives whether we’ve been in Orthodoxy 80 years or two weeks. We must grow in our faith, our zeal, our knowledge, our love, our sanctification, our holiness, and joy every day of our lives and even into eternity. We cannot give others something we do not have ourselves yet for all too often we have been more a convert of this broken world then of the life giving Christ. It’s well past time for Orthodox Christians to take their faith seriously, to know it, to love it, and to have it be the very core of their lives, the source from which all of our thoughts and actions flow.

The second thing we need to do is to see the world and everyone who lives in it through the eyes of Christ. Where there is brokenness, pain, struggle, sin, injustice, and harm we must see in all those things a call on us to enter into the human arena with the message and the reality of Christ, the only source of resolution to the darkness of the world. Yes we are called to worship within these walls and quite frankly every day of our lives wherever we are, but our life of worship, is supposed to flow out of us as well, every act of charity, every gift we give, everyone we bless, every time we speak on behalf of Christ is a continuation of worship, which by the root of the English word means declaring the “worthiness” or the “worth-ship” of God. Worship, then is not simply a thing we do but the way we are.

The Church was never designed to be a static entity catering to the needs of those inside but rather a living thing, an extension of the Kingdom of God, a collection of worshipping activists who become light, salt, and yeast, in the transformation of themselves and the world wherever it finds itself and to the optimal level of its ability. Anything less, no matter how nice the physical plant, the music, the preaching, and the ambiance, is just not the Church.

It’s time for we Orthodox Christians to be who we were baptized and chrismated to be. It’s time for this parish and every Orthodox church to hear in every bit of sin and struggle in the world a call to get out of our comfort zones, relearn and re-celebrate our Orthodox Faith, and leave these walls to bring the real hope and change that will always and only be found in Jesus Christ to a world of wandering hearts seeking something, someone, anything, to fill their empty hearts.

Never forget, God is taking note, the angels are watching, the saints are praying, and we have the souls of our friends, our families, our communities, and our nation in our hands. Bend your knees, roll up your sleeves, and lets get to the real work of hope and change.

Some wisdom from First Things...

On the decline of the mainline Protestant churches and their America.

A critical time...

Fall is starting to mark its place here in Minnesota and some of the trees are already changing. Soon the road south will be filled with tourists and the advent of "good sleeping weather" will be with us.

There will be much to do in the weeks ahead, buildings to erect, cleaning to do, and preparations for the visit of our Bishop. We race the onset of winter in these parts and the shorter days and cooler breezes lends an urgency to things.

But larger changes loom ahead, changes that involve not just buildings and paint but the transformation of our hearts. We must become something that to date we've never been taught to be or experienced, a vital movement of belief rooted in Gospel values. The situation is close to the edge and on our willingness to move beyond the safety of our small circles, both personally and as a parish, hangs the life of our church.

I've spoken of it before and will again but time is short. Demographics are not on our side, each person who moves, each person who opts for a casual relationship with the parish, and those who are present in body but not spirit, exponentially impacts what happens. What happens in the next few months will profoundly determine whether our parish is in a death spiral or emerging from the bottom of a trough towards better things.

So each trip along the river road has become a matter of mixed emotions for me. I do really care for what happens to St. Elias and the people who have stayed faithful all these years. They are good people and the potential of this little church remains large. I'm hoping for that change of spirit, that spark that lights the fire that gives these good people the will to become special, to step out of the comfort even a small and struggling parish can provide to something new and better. I have that hope inside but sometimes I wonder and that wonder leaves me struggling with large questions.

If God weren't involved in all of this...

The Fathers on Abortion...

A great article from WesternOrthodox on the Fathers and abortion.

On Gov. Palin and faith...

An interesting, short, and first look at the faith of the woman who may be Vice President.


If there is no God...

Wisdom from Dennis Prager...

What one almost never hears described are the deleterious consequences of secularism — the terrible developments that have accompanied the breakdown of traditional religion and belief in God. For every thousand students who learn about the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials, maybe two learn to associate Gulag, Auschwitz, The Cultural Revolution and the Cambodian genocide with secular regimes and ideologies.

Hat tip to Orthodoxy Today

Why abortion matters...

People wonder why we can't just "get over it" and often we're slandered as religious nuts or rubes attached to a single issue. But what a politicians believes about abortion matters, and often in a transcending way.

First it says something about the person's own spiritual and religious life. A person who claims Christianity as their faith and supports abortion is a person who either is willfully ignorant of the historic and continuing understanding of the Faith on this issue or is a person who's faith, in the end, is of the kind where it doesn't matter much in their day to day existence. That speaks to their character, whether their convictions are firm or malleable and what they would be willing to sacrifice in the short term for the sake of their own power and prestige.

Secondly a politician's stand on abortion says something about how they view the power of government. Our constitution was founded on the idea that human rights come, not from governments, but from God and that the government is instituted to protect those rights. This reasoning is why slavery, rightly, collapsed. The people who were enslaved were clearly human and thus were endowed, like everyone, with rights from God, rights that superseded the whims of politicians or courts, rights that needed to be recognized.

Whether you're the person who buys a pack of condoms or a scientist in the lab peering into the small smallest crevice of the human genome the debate over the beginning of life is over. At conception an entity is created and that entity, despite its size or appearance is human, a being awaiting only nine months of safety and care to emerge. Therefore that being, despite its pre-born status, has human rights. Just as slavery was morally wrong because the humanity of the slaves could not be denied so abortion is wrong for the same cause. A politician who supports abortion is saying, like the slave holders before them, that rights are bestowed by government, not God, and that government can decide that certain people are not allowed the full spectrum of rights not because of their behavior but because of their essence. This is a radical departure from the vision of the Founders of this country and people often hear the "choice" rhetoric without hearing the sinister implications behind it. Without the basic right to life of all humans every other right, every other ideal of our country, is meaningless.

It is quite true that the Faith is about more than the politics of abortion. There is a wide spectrum of issues about which our Faith can guide us and they all should be addressed. Each Christian, before they are anything else, is a member of the Kingdom of God and each should participate in the civil affairs of their nation with Kingdom values transcending all others. But very few issues cut to the heart of a person's inner most reality then the issue of abortion, where life and death can be decided on a whim and over 50 million have already perished by "choice".


A little wisdom from Breakpoint...

It used to be that people were known for being heroes. Doing something noble or worthy of praise would be reason for someone’s popular acclaim, but with the advance of mass media, a new phenomenon arose within American culture. People began to be known—just for being known. In media studies we’ve come to know this phenomenon as the rise of the celebrity.

Read more here...

Hat tip to Orthodoxy Today


It was a harder sermon than most to give last Sunday.

I reminded the church of a simple fact; as we're remodeling our building we need to remodel ourselves as well by making our parish a central part of our lives and reaching out to our community in word and deed. Our little church, like many other Orthodox parishes, can suffer from that kind of laxity that comes with age. Everyone likes the general idea of having a church but few are willing to produce the kind of effort it takes, the kind of personal responsibility required, the kind of vision turned into action that makes a parish thrive. Without it all our efforts at remodeling our building may simply mean we're preparing it for someone else, for the church, group, bookstore, or whatever that buys it when we're closed.

That's a hard thing to say, and the truth of it doesn't make it easier.

There are many things a Priest can do to help a parish but one thing always remains out of our grasp. We cannot create the will, the drive, that invisible something where people say "This is important to me, important enough for me to commit myself, my talents, my gifts, my energy, my resources, to make it happen." That will cannot be taught, it must be caught, and without it life in an Orthodox church can only be about holding on for as long as possible before time and demographics work their decay.

It's one of the stranger illusions of life in American Christianity and Orthodoxy in particular. People know if you don't feed a goldfish it will die and if you don't invest passion, time, and energy into your business it will go bankrupt. Yet that common sense often seems lost when it comes to our churches where the expectation of high returns on small investments is the order of the day.

Some of that seems to be the rancid fruit of centuries of either being a state church or a persecuted church. In the first few had to invest deeply of themselves because the church was always there, in the second the church was always in some kind of captivity so the idea of a horizon, of a dynamic, was often lost. The Orthodox who immigrated to this country largely brought one of the two of these visions with them and the combination has been poisonous to us in this land where parishes are free from persecution but required to make their own way in the world as well.

One would think that after a century or two of existence in this country we would have "gotten it" but apparently we often still miss this basic lesson, that in this country what you put in to anything often has a direct relationship to what you'll receive. And that's a hard thing to tell the people for whom you care, for whom you pray, and for whom you sometimes spend sleepless nights. I wish there was something I could say, something I could do, something to ignite an enduring passion for our little parish in people's hearts so they would find the way to reach down inside and draw on the gifts they were given in their baptism and chrismation and be what God would have them be. I know they would be better, happier, more alive, and closer to Christ. At times I ache for this in their lives.

Sadly, though, there are no words, no magic formula, no sure fire way for me to help light the spark of hope in these good people's hearts. I'll do my best to point the way, and everything else is in God's hands. But just in case you're reading this, please God, give these good people who've endured so much a glimmer of what could be and the courage to reach out and grasp it.


Peggy Noonan on Sen. Obama and abortion...

As to the question when human life begins, the answer to which is above Mr. Obama's pay grade, oh, let's go on a little tear. You know why they call it birth control? Because it's meant to stop a birth from happening nine months later. We know when life begins. Everyone who ever bought a pack of condoms knows when life begins.

Read more here...


Why you should be careful...

This article reminds us why we should be careful consumers of media, especially when it comes to statistics, numbers, and polls. Don't forget that much of the media exists not for the sake of truth but rather for revenue. The scarier the story, the more the threat, the more likely you'll look and watch the ads. Because of this the truth is often subservient to the impact of the potential story.

Hat tip to Five Feet of Fury


Why Packers fans should go to church...

Hat tip to Craig for the dose of truth.

Hang in there...

It's been busy for a while and I've got things to say but little time to write. Hang in there and I'll get on it, soon.


Above my pay grade...

In a recent forum at Saddleback Church Sen. Barack Obama said, among other things, that the question of when life begins is "Above my pay grade..." I'm not sure why he said that, I presume that he may have been trying to be coy in front of an audience that consisted largely of more or less conservative evangelical Christians or perhaps he wanted to use ambiguity to move towards the center and away from what has been a consistently pro abortion voting record. I can only speculate but it begs some questions.

-Making profound, even life and death, decisions is part of being President. If a question like this is "above your pay grade" are you indicating your personal level of readiness for the job?

-If a question about when life begins is "above your pay grade" then why should it be left to people who presumably are less qualified to answer it then you?

-If you have doubts about when life begins shouldn't you do everything you can to protect life in all its phases for the sake of the benefit of the doubt?

That I can rattle off these questions in less then a minute says something.


Learning the Liturgy...

Perhaps the greatest challenge in becoming a Priest was the suddenness of my placement at St. Elias. I was ordained one Sunday, had one Sunday to practice a Liturgy, and then was sent to St. Elias basically to figure it out for myself. I had been a Deacon for two years, of course, but watching and doing are two different things and ever since then I've felt like I've been playing "catch up" when it comes to serving the liturgies of the Church.

Complicating it is the reality there are few standard forms for serving the liturgy. For whatever time you have to learn the liturgy you largely learn it in the "style" of the person who teaches you and so whenever Priests gather there can often be confusion about who is doing what. Yes, there are rubrics in the various texts, instructions for what you should be doing, but these are often amended or left out entirely depending on the "style" of who is serving and whole sections of the Liturgy, items like the ektenia before the Lord's Prayer, can be dropped or added depending where you are and who you're with.

Because of this it can be a difficult task thing to serve the Liturgy well when you feel like you've simply not had the training to do it or aren't sure even what "good" is. Harder yet is serving with other Priests and feeling totally unprepared. If you make a mistake other Priests can be tough customers and I can't wait to stop being the "junior Priest" at some of these gatherings so some of the tasks fall away from me. Add my bi-vocational status and its lack of daily preparation time to that and it can be quite frustrating.

So what to do? Well, I'm reading the Liturgikon over and over again and trying to make sure that what I'm doing up front is as close to conformity with it as possible. And I try to do my best in the place between knowing the extreme seriousness of what I must do and the reality that in heart, soul, and technique I may never ever be good enough. Oh, and I pray that the people of St. Elias are forgiving when I slip up while I'm hanging on for the ride.


Pray for the peace of Georgia...

Russian and Georgian troops are at war in Georgia. Pray for peace in the nation where the flag represents Christ and the Four Evangelists. St. Nina and St. Nicholas intercede for them!


The sign of the Obama...

Continuing on the theme of Sen. Barack Obama as a new secular messiah is this article about an ad agency developing a hand gesture in the shape of an "O" that it hopes will be used by people to greet each other and signal their vision for new things and a new hope with the Senator.

In postings past I have observed that the Obama campaign and its followers have used quasi-spiritual symbolism to describe their candidate and what they hope will be his movement as well. I have also observed that this could be, in some part, related to the fact that the political left, largely devoid of traditional faith, has a need to constantly create new faith and new traditions to compensate for that lack because people are inherently traditional and spiritual.

I'm not surprised, then, that the people attached to the campaign would seek to create a faux hand gesture to communicate their faith, an ersatz sign of the cross if you will. I think that it, like a lot of the ideas and images coming out of the Senator's campaign, will come across to most people as kind of silly. But the hunger for meaning, identity, and transcendence that drives it matters and should be something we Orthodox think about as we live in this culture so rich in goods and poor in spirit.

That being said gestures, what we do with our body, matter, and its interesting that this campaign, as devoid of traditional faith as it is, understands this in a way that perhaps most Orthodox don't.


Preacher convicted of road rage...

Apparently he waved a gun and began cursing at a woman he claims cut him off on the way to church.

I don't approve, but I do understand, especially when my route takes me down Highway 61 and the autumn "leaf watchers" are out in force driving 30 in a 55 mph zone staring out the window without thinking that someone else in the world may actually need to get somewhere.

Lord, have mercy.

Little pink houses part three...

Well its been a couple of weeks now since the new folks moved in next door and life is beginning to settle down. Its comforting, in a way, to have the noises of a family and children next door, the music of life's routines.

I'm relearning some of life's lessons along the way as well.

I think that sometimes when we, as white people in this country, interact at close quarters with people of different races we feel there is some "special' way we must act. The casualness and comfort that marks the way we deal with others like us disappears and is replaced by an internal editor who watches over our speech, our actions, our emotions, and makes us more cautious then we need to be, more unlike ourselves.

I remember a scene from the old Archie Bunker television show where Lionel Jefferson, an African American, is with Mike, Archie's son in law, and they're playing one of those table games where you have to tell the truth. Lionel draws a card and tells Mike he wishes he wouldn't always talk to him about "black issues". When Mike challenges him about this and asks him what he'd rather talk about, Lionel responds, "How about the weather, you know black people have weather too..." And therein lies the point.

Among the worst things that have happened in this country is that people like the character Mike in that long ago TV show have grown up and taken control of the way we speak and interact with each other. The effect has been not to increase dialogue and friendship but rather to create barriers out of words and the constant potential for offense that actually drives people apart. People of different races have stopped learning how to speak with each other because the negotiations for what it acceptable language are ongoing and the cost of a mistake is high. Being politically correct has taken the natural interactions between us and turned them into potential flashpots.

Yes its wrong to be derogatory and mean but we've become so sensitive that we've retreated into silence rather than risk even the remotest possibility of harm. The result has been that we're stilted and careful when we interact with others and the normal bonds that would help us grow together are replaced by increasingly longer periods of social negotiation before we can grow comfortable with each other and become simply neighbors and friends.

The answer, I think, is just to be yourself. Don't be a bigot but don't also presume that you have to be the same. After all you're not identical to people of your own race so why should you expect to be the same as anyone else? Two people comfortable in their own skin will be able to bridge the gaps between them in a way almost all of the artificial "diversity" programs will never accomplish. Talk about the weather, sports, cars, or nothing at all and tell that silly editor in your head, that product of the Mike's weird utopian vision, to take a hike. After all black people have weather too and when they live next door its the same as yours.


What do converts want...

Rod Dreher reflects on a lecture by Terry Mattigly on the topics of converts to the Orthodox Church.

If you're a convert to Orthodoxy what do you want? For me I had hoped that coming into Orthodoxy I would find a community whose life carried the same depth, passion, and vigor of its theology. But having been in a number of faith communities I knew, somewhere, that much was probably going to be the same, some people passionate about their faith, some lukewarm, and some just along for the ride. Theologically Orthodoxy is a shining city on a hill but practically we're often just a little house with a flickering light at the bottom of a valley.

Was I disappointed? Not too much because I've been a Pastor before and I'm well aware of the gap between what should be and what actually is, even in myself. I would rather work to return a sense of passion and purpose in Orthodoxy, and myself, then be in the biggest "purpose driven church" in the world. Events, people, movements, they all ebb and flow but you can't replace truth and Orthodoxy has truth in spades.

Now it should be noted that a sense of passion, purpose, and mission is part of the "truth" of Orthodoxy, at least it should be and there are many Priests who would probably wish the people they serve were as "up" for proclaiming and living their faith as they are for a good discussion about falafel. But context is everything and many of the places where people are "up" have issues where they are sometimes in direct conflict with revealed truth and its much easier to restore passion from a basis of truth then to get passionate people steered towards orthodoxy. I've been in more then a few churches where people have been totally hyped but in that frenzy have come up with some pretty strange ideas and I'd much rather try to put some air on the coals of a tired Orthodox church then try to handle that kind of raging fire.

This, I presume, is what it means to have a mature faith. Certainly I would have liked to see Orthodoxy be more of a "movement" and less of a collection of parishes, but at the same time you love something as it is and hope that you, by your presence, can help bring out its best. Whether Orthodoxy will be better for me so is still up in the air but I'll give it my best.